May 4, it was plain what had happened as soon as “Trending: Adam Yauch”
appeared on-line. Five minutes later, my
mid-20s brother sent me a text telling me that MCA had died. It wasn’t a surprise. We’d known he’d had cancers and, when he
hadn’t made the Beastie Boys’ induction to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
just about 10 days before, you had to know something very bad was going to
have to work hard to find someone whose death would have had a wider impact
specifically on the group of us that others tagged Generation X. When we were kids, there were basically three
musical explosions, before the Internet, before the idea of everyone hearing
the same thing at the same time became quaint.
Michael Jackson’s Thriller, in
1983, was the first – when we were figuring how close to dance – and Nirvana’s Nevermind in 1991 was the last – right as
we were figuring out how to buy our own food.
The Beastie Boys hit in 1986, right in our teenage sweet spot. Bon Jovi was unavoidable for a little while
and U2 grew into the world’s biggest band, but Michael Jackson, the Beastie
Boys and Nirvana were the ones who were everywhere, all at one. But only the Beastie Boys were rap.
hard to reconstruct how new, disruptive and beautifully obnoxious rap was in
1986. If you were a teen in 1986, then
you had spent the better part of your life being told how amazing the Sixties,
and especially Sixties music, had been.
Let’s have whole radio stations that are devoted to remembering how wonderful
things were before you were born! Not
everyone got told that straight out, but that was the vibe.
was a screw you to all that.
exactly new – it had been around since the late 70s if you knew where to
But 1986 is when rap blew up,
first with Run D.M.C.’s Raising Hell
and then with the Beastie Boys’ Licensed
to Ill. Older people
hated it, which made it so much better.
A few years later, at a party, a guy in his forties said, “I didn’t
think that they could make a kind of music I wouldn’t like, but then they made
rap.” Music to a younger generation’s
ears. They called rap stealing. They called it noise. And the Beastie Boys were very, very noisy on
Licensed to Ill.
don’t remember the first time I heard the Beastie Boys, but remember clearly
when I fully became aware of them. It
was the 1986 Student Council Christmas party.
The cool student body president was talking about how much he liked
them, how funny they were. Everyone
agreed. Well, I didn’t exactly because I
remember thinking that they were too whiny, especially Ad Rock, and that I
liked Run D.M.C. better. Just after
that, though, the Beastie Boys were everywhere.
“Fight For Your Right To Party” was everywhere. The next summer, my cousin and I snaked our
dads’ tickets to a charity golf tournament and spent the whole day puzzling out
the Boys’ lyrics on a boom box in a golf cart.
I’m sure the group behind us just loved it.
Licensed to Ill
became the soundtrack
for the rest of high school.
My two best
friends and I spent hours driving around in one’s late 70s Lincoln Continental
coupe – a 20-foot-long two-door – and the driver played Licensed to Ill
on continuous loop.
For two years.
There was even a
nationwide hoax that Mike D had been killed in a plane crash – that’s why there
was a smashed plane on the album cover!
I got sick of Licensed to Ill. No matter how
good “brass monkey, that funky monkey, brass monkey junkie, that funky monkey”
sounds, it’ll wear you out the 1,000,000th time you hear it.
I went off to college, I didn’t take the B Boys with me.
I was listening to, for my doses of rap, Tone-Loc
– enabling me to still use the phrase “Cheeba, cheeba” in casual conversation –
De La Soul and Public Enemy.
though, the Beastie Boys released Paul’s
and that was a new thing.
can’t claim to be one of those who figured out that Paul’s Boutique
was a classic right away.
But the music was different, built around an
avalanche of samples, not the big guitar riffs like much of Licensed to Ill.
My strongest memory of it is one line in “Hey
Ladies” and having to go back and catch There’s
more to me than you’ll ever know and I got more hits than Sadaharu Oh
I was a baseball geek, I knew who Sadaharu Oh
was – he was the worldwide home run record holder, from Japan
They rhymed off Sadaharu Oh?!?
Maybe there was more to the Beastie Boys than
they’d disappeared at that point, the Beastie Boys would been one of the big
80s acts. They could’ve played county
fairs with Flock of Seagulls for years.
It was then, though, that they grew into something much different.
key year was 1994. You’ve got to
remember what 1994 was. We’re in our
mid-20s, trying to figure where we’re going.
We’re finishing school, we’re getting our first grown-up jobs, we’re
getting married and having our first kids.
We’re figuring out where and how to make our lives. 1994 was also just when you could feel that
something big was about to happen. People
were starting to have this thing “e-mail,” where you could talk to people
through your computer, like Matthew Broderick in War Games or Ferris Bueller
without the illegal hacking or risk of nuclear annihilation. Within my first couple of weeks of law school
in 1992, I was introduced to LEXIS, which had an unbelievable amount of
information available through your computer.
All of this was out there?!? I
felt like some kind of superhero the first time I used it. Info Man!
By 1994, I actually knew how to use the thing. With a little Boolean code, I could find
anything with my computer. (A quick
footnote: LEXIS and its competitor WestLaw use a business model similar to drug
dealers – give law students free access in school, get them hooked and then
charge actual attorneys a bunch of money to use their services.) By 1994, we’d seen our first music
revolution, when Nirvana and then Pearl Jam and the Chili Peppers and then the
rest swamped Michael Jackson and Paula Abdul and the hair bands.
knew, though, that the future wasn’t necessarily so bright that we’d have to
The hangover from the
1991-1992 recession lingered.
not that easy to find.
When The Mermaid
was born December 31, 1994, I was still looking for my first job as an
attorney, a good six months after I thought I had that nailed down.
A few days after The Mermaid was born, my MIL
babysat her and The Muse – still recovering from a rocket-propelled labor – so
I could drive, at night and after class, through a driving rainstorm to Stockton
for a job
I wanted a job
Culturally, 1994 was a tough year,
On April 5, 1994, Kurt Cobain
killed himself with a shotgun.
the same time, a strange guy named Beck had a big hit with his song “Loser” – Sooyyy un perdedor, I’m loser, baby, so why
don’t you kill me?
– which seemed like an appropriate follow-up to
Radiohead’s song “Creep” – I’m a creep,
I’m a weirdo, what the hell I’m doing here? I don’t belong here
– which was
big just a few months earlier.
that time when we were figuring out that – like everyone else – would have to
make our own way.
We had reached the
point that Bridget Fonda’s character in the 1992 movie Singles
described when she said, “I think time’s running out to do
Somewhere around 25,
bizarre becomes immature.”
in the middle of this – in May 1994, a month after Cobain killed himself – the
Beastie Boys released Ill Communication
which included what, to me at least, are still their two best songs, “Sure
Shot” and “Sabotage.”
What they’d done
is keep the tight rhymes built upon crazy cultural references, laid them over
all kinds of new music – sampling having become much more expensive since Paul’s Boutique
because the samplees had
started wanting royalties – and put them into the service of a new, almost
On “Sure Shot,” Mike D
raps, at one point, I got more action
than my man John Woo and I got mad hits like I was Rod Carew
Think about just that one line.
In 1994, John Woo hadn’t yet broken through
– other than the van Damme movie Hard Target
– and was only really known
by people who watched action movies from Hong Kong
Rod Carew, on the other hand, was a Hall of
Fame baseball player who began playing in 1967, collected his 3,000th
hit in 1985 and then retired.
people – pre-Internet – knew who both of those guys were?
Shot” – the first track on the disc and therefore its declaration of purpose – however, is much more than a collection of
cool references (which also include Yoo-Hoo and Doug E. Fresh). It screams “I’m in my mid-20s and I’m just
starting to figure it out.” Mike D.
raps, Everyone just takes, takes, takes,
takes, take, I gotta step back, I gotta contemplate, then later I’m a newlywed, I’m not a divorcee,
later still You say I’m twenty-something
and I should be slacking, but I’m working harder than ever and you could call
it macking/So I’m supposed to sit on my couch watching my TV, I’m listening to wax,
I’m not using the CD. Right after
Mike D’s bit about listening to wax, Ad Rock raps Well, I’m that kid in the corner, all fucked up and I wanna, so I’m
gonna take a piece of the pie. Why not?
I’m not quittin’. Think I’m gonna change
up style just to fit in?
couldn’t get much of a better vision of where we were than that. We’re getting married. We’re supposed to be the Slacker generation, but,
screw you, we’re not. Not only are we
figuring it out, we’re going to figure it out our own way. We’re going to keep the good stuff – like wax
– and we’re going to mix it up into something new.
MCA’s lyrics on “Sure Shot” that go a little deeper and really hit home. I got
more rhymes than I got gray hairs and that’s lot because I got my share.
Is there another rapper – another rock star –
who would have said something like that?
MCA was 29 when Ill Communication
When Mick Jagger and Keith
Richards were not quite 30, the Stones had their 1972 tour, during which they
stayed for a while at the Playboy Mansion
and Mick supposedly carried a gun because the
Hells Angels were thought to have put a hit on him after Altamont
Also on “Sure Shot,” MCA apologized for the B
Boys’ prior treatment of women: “I’m
going say a little something, that’s all I’m do. That disrespecting women has got to be
through. To all the mothers and the
sisters and the wives and friends, I wanna offer my love and respect to the
The Beastie Boys had grown up,
but in their own funky way.
“Sabotage” video was really the icing on this cake. “Sabotage” is a great song, with sweet
guitars that the band played themselves.
As someone whose first memory is of watching on TV the House Judiciary
Committee considering articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon –
I remember from when I was about three sitting on the floor of my first house
with my dad watching long rows of people with the towering presence of a black
woman among them, someone I determined as an adult to be Rep. Barbara Jordan –
I especially appreciated how much of “Sabotage” was built from the line I’m a-set it straight, this Watergate. The video, though, was genius, with the
Beastie Boys reenacting – in terrible wigs and mustaches, driving those bad
American cars that undercover cops always drove on TV – some unknown episode of
one of those bad 70s cop shows that ran endlessly when we were kids and before
there was cable. If you weren’t watching
reruns of The Brady Bunch, or got
lucky and found some Looney Tunes, there was always a rerun of Barnaby Jones you could watch. If you got really lucky, your parents would
let you stay up to watch Starsky &
Hutch. The “Sabotage” video was the
best goof on all of that you’ll ever see.
set this trajectory, the B Boys stayed on it for the rest of their career. They had massive success producing great
goofy stuff that you weren’t going to fully get unless your formative years had
included the 80s. On “Body Movin’,” Ad
Rock raps: If you pulled my card, you
pulled the ace. If you ask me, turn up
the bass and, if you play Defender, rock a bridge to hyperspace. What was it that Joel’s father noticed when
he returned home at the end of Risky
Business? It was that Joel had
pushed the bass on the stereo’s equalizer too high. After all the underwear-dancing and
Guido-the-killer-pimp-fleeing and Porsche-killing and bordello-making, Joel
hadn’t put the bass back right. And, if
you’re male and aged 35 to 45 now, then you know you used hyperspace to keep
from getting killed in Defender – one
of the hardest video games I’ve ever played – at least once. The B Boys’ “Intergalatic” video – directed
by MCA – may top “Sabotage” in its sublime oddness, with shots of the group
rapping through a Japanese subway in radiation suits intercut with scenes of a
giant, popping robot fighting Godzilla.
Their 2011 disc Hot Sauce
Committee Part Two contains, among other things, MCA’s offer that If you’re feeling chilly, I’ma get you a
it’s seems like it would have been easy to stay on a track on which you already
were successful, but it’s important to remember that rap changed completely
around the B Boys. Beginning probably
with Dr. Dre’s 1992 solo debut The
Chronic, rap went heavily gangsta.
Can’t say I’ve listened to a lot of it.
Some of the music sounds very cool – Dr. Dre’s and Snoop Dogg’s “Nuthin’
But G Thang” especially – but the messages were completely antithetical to what
the Beastie Boys were doing.
amazingly, the Beastie Boys became a way to connect with our kids. In 2009, I took Enthusio – then 10 – to see
the Star Trek reboot. If you’ve seen it, then you know what I’m
talking about. Kirk’s first appearance –
after his father heroically sacrifices himself – is as an 11- or 12-year-old
kid joyriding in his jerk of a stepfather’s beautiful mid-1960s rag-top
Corvette. (Do not ask how a mid-1960s
car survived in pristine condition until the 2200s or how a pre-teen in that
century knew how to drive a stick-shift seamlessly. We’re working with symbolism here.) He takes this joyride to the tune of
“Sabotage.” The director – J.J. Abrams,
born 1966 – thought the song was so crucial to the movie that he kept its line I got this fuckin’ thorn in my side –
and thus dropped the only and only F-bomb he was allowed while keeping the
movie PG-13. Enthusio loved the movie
and the scene and, partly for that reason, loves the song “Sabotage.” I suspect teenage boys will always love that
song, such a pure wail against the injustice of it all.
what I’ll submit to you is that the Beastie Boys, among all of the artists and
celebrities we’ve seen – beginning with John Travolta and ending so far with
Paul Rudd and Tina Fey – have come the closest to speaking for our crowd, the
one that others decided to name Generation X.
I know that not everyone likes the B Boys. The Muse still doesn’t, although she watched
a repeat of their Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction with me after MCA
died. People our age, however, tend to
wear as a badge of honor the fact that not everyone likes what we do. Think
I’ma change up my style just to fit in?
The B Boys provided the rowdy soundtrack for our rowdy years, grew up in
their own funky way just as we were trying to do and stayed goofy – stayed real
– the whole time. That’s just about what
all of my friends and I have wanted to do all along.
been trying to write this since MCA’s passing, but couldn’t quite figure it all
out until last weekend when I went to a class reunion for the high school class
ahead of me. At the end, at somewhere
around 1 a.m., just before the DJ started playing the last song, he yelled, “I
want all of the guys on stage right now.”
In our states, we complied. Just
as we hopped on the little stage,” the big, loud guitar hook of “Fight for Your
Right to Party” blasted off. And with
that, fifty or so 40ish guys – including army officers, teachers, corporate
higher-ups, attorneys and dads of all shapes and sizes – began yelling every
word. Livin’ at home is such a drag, nooowww your mom threw away your best
porno mag. Can’t really imagine
another song that would have worked.
MCA. RIP Beastie Boys.
Just a note: a lot of this was